Reaching a consensus on this issue will not be easy. Aren’t you worried that no one will be happy with your recommendations, regardless of what they are?

“I’m not rattled easily, but it certainly a complicate issue to tackle. Although I might make it out to be a purely rational assessment, when I see what effects this issue has on people I’m under no illusion that everyone will be in agreement when we issue our recommendations.”

“I do believe it’s crucial that this step has been taken, particularly because we’re seeing conversations on this issue very quickly shorting out, so to speak. It’s clear that what is happening in Gaza is dreadful. And some people have more empathy for Israel, a country with a very traumatic past, than others. That shorting out is a result of the idea that because the situation is harrowing, action must be taken and that all ties should be cut. However, the question of what exactly should be done is often based on a whole lot of assumptions. If we, as a committee, manage to separate and clarify that issue and the assumptions to some degree, I think we will have achieved a great deal. At the very least we’ll be able to have a conversation about it.”

Can you give an example of these types of assumptions?

“Imagine that the university is taking part in research that results in military knowledge that is used in Gaza. At that point, you could very clearly say: That’s something we don’t want to be participating in. But does it equally mean suspending any student exchanges? With a totally different type of faculty, from different institutions? There are different reasons for each partnership as to why we might want to continue to remain in the partnership or not. Some people say: Can’t you see how awful it is? And they immediately link this to the fact that we should therefore cut all ties. But it’s at that point that you lose any sense of nuance.”

To what extent did the open letter from the rectors in Trouw obstruct the work of the committee? In the letter, Bredenoord and the other rectors say they do not want to categorically exclude an entire country, as was done earlier with Russia, saying that [they] ‘do not wish to isolate critical Israeli voices’. As a result, the committee no longer has the flexibility to say: We’re putting a stop to all partnerships with Israel.

“There wasn’t really anything new in that letter. Dutch universities have been saying for some time that we need to be careful with banning or excluding an entire country. In this case, the rectors only added that they wanted to be more specific. If you have good reasons to discontinue every single partnership, that means that you still have the option of cutting all ties. On top of that, the committee’s remit doesn’t deal with individual academics, so that doesn’t play a role at all.”

Who actually sits on the committee?

“[Names to be added, should be announced very soon] They’re all academics. They sit in close proximity to the primary process. Other universities have opted for a more administrative committee, whereas we’re saying that the emphasis is on how academics make these decisions. Naturally, we do work with experts on knowledge security and internationalisation. Every recommendation we issue has an impact on the functioning of the university.”

Why are there no protesters or students on the committee?

“There were a number of academics among the protesters, so it’s not out of the question. But in terms of the candidates, their personal convictions or whether they took part in a protest were not relevant. At present, the committee was selected based on expertise rather than on representation. However, there should be variation in terms of candidates’ backgrounds. The most important thing is that they should be able to contribute and give advice from a professional perspective. We will be conducting a review in a year’s time and will also be examining this element.”

In what areas does their expertise lie?

“We have three permanent members with broad expertise in relation to these and other issues. We also have two temporary members for each specific case who have specific knowledge of its context and backgrounds.”

A separate Committee of Experts has just been set up to look at the university’s ties to the fossil industry. Why hasn’t this issue been put before your committee?

“Quite simply because that process was already underway. Both committees were largely prompted by current events; both should be seen as pilots. We exchange information and experiences, which should lead to a more structural position of these committees within the organisation.”

You recently said that you want the committee to operate in the public eye as much as possible. What does that mean in practice?

“The procedure will be posted on a web page along with the names of the committee members. We are also happy to engage with the entire university and are open to questions and information. The recommendations we issue to the Executive Board will also be made public.”

About the issue at hand: Israeli and Palestinian institutions. What exactly is the procedure within the committee?

“First of all, we will be identifying a number of issues. First, what do we know about the actual situation? We won’t be conducting our own investigation, but a lot of information is already available. And exactly what ties does EUR actually have and what are their implications? Secondly, what are the legal and international issues involved? This could be related to rulings by the International Court of Justice or the United Nations, for example. Thirdly, what kind of university do we want to be? What do Erasmian values mean? And in what ways do we as a university become involved in a conflict if we continue to engage in a specific partnership or terminate the relationship? All these questions lead to a set of recommendations to be used by the Executive Board to reach a decision. We have a purely advisory role.”

There is a list of EUR’s known partnerships with Israeli institutions, all of which are at the institutional level. I can also imagine there being ties between individual academics themselves. Is that something the committee will also be looking at?

“No. The remit we have been given by the Executive Board is to examine formal partnerships at the institutional level, which means we won’t be going into the faculties looking for people who are still in contact with academics in Israel. That’s not our job. On top of that, I would find that problematic.”

So imagine the committee recommends that the university terminate all institutional partnerships – doesn’t that mean that every individual academic should do the same?

“No, I don’t think so. I think that would be almost impossible, because that’s very much at odds with academic freedom. And I assume academics would also take personal responsibility for their conduct. I do think academics would reflect on what our recommendations mean for their own partnerships when reading our opinion.”

The university increasingly finds itself in a position where it has to speak out on all kinds of world events – this was previously the case for Russia. Isn’t that incredibly difficult for an institution where there are so many different views?

“Not only in respect of Russia but also in respect of the fossil industry. These are all issues where, as a university, there’s a moral question to be answered, too. I actually quite like that. The idea that the university is a kind of business that can be run as neutrally as possible is just not how things work! It’s a place where fundamental values are up for debate. If we truly care about human rights, then that has an impact on what we do. It means that maybe we should act in some cases but should not in others. It’s tricky though, because there isn’t a consensus on every single issue. In addition, the collective view you might take isn’t necessarily equal to it being the largest common denominator for all the various views in play. But you do have to come together. I think that worked out reasonably well in the case of the fossil industry, but because of the severity of the situation and all the emotional pressure involved this is much less so for Gaza.”

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